It’s easy to find bad Mexican food anywhere in the world. Less-than-fresh so-called Mexican is ubiquitous from Bali to Mali, found often in airport lounges, mall food courts, and even roadside stalls in the middle of nowhere. Each typically serves some combination of stale chips, bright orange nacho cheese, rubbery chicken, and canned jalapeno peppers. The worst offender is usually a dollop of sweet tomato salsa freshly-poured – out of a bottle.
Good Mexican food, however, is much harder to find, especially as you get further from Mexico itself.
But if you’re craving a Mexican fix in Abu Dhabi, look no further than Cantina Laredo, located on the first floor of a downtown mall. It may surprise you, and not just because its ceiling is decorated with old Cinco de Mayo flags. Cantina Laredo uses only the freshest, most authentic ingredients to capture the real flavors of Mexico.
Who says you have to go out to a five-star hotel for a good brunch on the weekends? There are plenty of independent options for a leisurely breakfast in Abu Dhabi, and new ones continue popping up every few weeks.
Tucked into a villa in a residential area not far from the waterfront of the United Arab Emirates’ capital is a café just over one month old. It’s called “Third Place,” and its name comes from the idea that most people have three locations where they spend time: 1) home, 2) work, and 3) a place to relax, read, study, or hang out with friends. Third Place sets out to be that third place.
This popular restaurant is located just off a major road, but set back enough that passing cars could easily miss the building. There are no signs outside advertising its location on the first floor of a residential apartment building on Abu Dhabi’s waterfront corniche.
Still, once you do find your way inside, somehow every single table is full.
Welcome to Max’s Restaurant, the most popular Filipino restaurant you’ve probably never heard of.
Kosebasi, a grill serving South Anatolian Turkish cuisine, is a chain restaurant that first opened in Turkey in 1995. Based on its success and popularity at home, it began expanding to international locations in 2008, according to its website.
Today it has several branches in the Arabian Gulf countries. Its Abu Dhabi restaurant opened just over one year ago in the upscale food court of a large mall in the heart of the UAE capital.
But Kosebasi isn’t your average food court stop.
The sea port on the northern edge of Abu Dhabi is lined with fish sellers, cargo storage facilities, and wooden fishing dhows – perhaps not where you’d expect to find a restaurant with one of the best and widest selections of Emirati food in the UAE’s capital.
But Al Arish, an Emirati seafood restaurant along the docks, is all about unique surprises.
Salata hara, or ‘hot salad’, is perhaps the most common condiment served with local food in the Persian Gulf.
Salata hara accompanies chicken, lamb, fish, and rice dishes to wash them down with a saucy kick.
It is very similar to Mexican fresh salsa, though the Arabian-style salata hara is made with green birds eye chili (or local, less spicy versions of a green chili) as opposed to jalapeno peppers. Salata hara also contains a few different spices.
But it’s just as easy to whip up as a Mexican salsa, provided you have a blender and some fresh vegetables on hand (you could very easily make this without a blender – slicing and dicing the vegetables – it will just take a little longer).
If you’re hungry for baba ghannouj, hummos, and succulent kababs, Lebanese Flower is one of Abu Dhabi’s most popular restaurants for traditional Middle Eastern food outside a five-star hotel.
On any given weeknight, there is a steady stream of customers filing into this popular Lebanese joint, which is located across from a dense collection of cell phone shops on a busy stretch of road in the UAE capital. Outside, the open-air patio section is almost too full to find a tablel. Servers with glowing baskets of shisha coals carefully weave around the droves of customers, balancing fresh coals atop the bubbling pipes. It’s the same on the street too; waiters clutching plastic takeaway bags dash to a long row of double-parked cars to hand out ‘drive-thru’ orders before quickly scribbling arriving cars’ new orders.
Think you can stand the heat of the hottest chili pepper in the world? Even if you love spicy chili burn, you may meet your match with one of these peppers:
A Peruvian pepper that registers 175,000 Scoville Heating Units (SHUs). It’s known in Peru as ‘the apple’, though people who’ve eaten it accidentally thinking it was fruit describe it as anything but. “I never could have imagined that this was going to make me cry and barely breathe, with my mouth on fire,” said this man.
One of the best hot sauces on the planet comes from Yemen, a nation on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
It’s called zhug, a fiery chili pepper paste that is both rich in flavor and spicy enough to require a tall glass of water on hand while eating. The main ingredient in zhug is the serrano, which can be a fairly hot chili depending on the individual pepper. The other two main flavors come from garlic – there is a lot of it in zhug – and cumin.
Zhug is starting to get more recognition on the international stage, though it’s already quite popular in the Middle East. It can be found at Yemeni restaurants across the region (see here, for example). It’s also very popular in Israel; zhug was brought to Israel by Yemenite Jews as they immigrated in the last half century. Today, zhug is a common condiment in Israeli street food, commonly spooned onto falafel and shwarma sandwiches.
Indeed, zhug goes well as a savory spread with just about anything: salads, chicken, meat, fish, eggs, and any type of sandwich or wrap. The only trouble is that its very difficult to find the green hot sauce for sale in grocery stores, especially outside of the Middle East.
So here is a simple, step-by-step illustrated recipe for making quick and easy batch of zhug at home with minimal ingredients. Note: there are many, many ways to make zhug (some Yemenis, for example, blend mint leaves into the mix) – this is just one example.
Editor’s note: Camels Fire is constantly on the move, exploring Abu Dhabi and beyond to discover the best spices and cheap, local eats. The following is a special report from Pokhara, Nepal.
In a country where hot peppers are a frequent ingredient in the cuisine, it’s only a matter of time before the beverages start becoming fiery too. And if you like a little kick in liquid form, there’s a bar in central Nepal that serves up a unique whiskey drink with fresh watermelon juice blended with spicy green chilis.
Darshan Lama, a 24-year-old Nepalese bartender, invented the fruit juice and pepper concoction a couple of years ago with his brother while sitting around waiting for customers.
“We were bored and just messed around with it,” said Lama, who serves drinks in a hotel bar in Pokhara, Nepal’s second largest city best known for its mountain lake and hordes of trekking tourists.
The drink is refreshing while adding a little bit of burn that a spice-lover will thoroughly enjoy. Plus it’s good ice-breaker for your next party – and a way to impress guests with your mixing creativity and fearlessness in the face of this spicy concoction.
Here’s a step-by-step illustrated recipe so you too can make the drink: